Saturday, September 29, 2012

Join us to meet the "Nun on the bus"

This Sunday, it gives me great pleasure to bring my dear old friend, Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, to St. Paul's. She will be preaching at the 8 am and 10 am worship services and taking questions at an adult forum at 11:30 am.

Sister Simone, who is a nun in the order of the Sisters of Social Service, is best known as the Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic organization that lobbies on economic and social justice issues.

She has become well-known as one of the targets of a Vatican crackdown on American nuns who Rome believes are too eager to disagree with church teachings on sexuality and gender while overemphasizing church teachings on social justice.

Come hear her side.

Sister Simone has been the public face of the “nuns on the bus” who toured the country this summer to draw attention to federal budget proposals that, in the view of the nuns, would harm the poor. She is also an attorney, and represented low-income people for 18 years in California, where she founded a community-based law center. She is fluent in Spanish, and is an accomplished poet.

Shortly before our war with Iraq in 2003, she traveled to Baghdad with several of her sisters to draw attention to the Christians who still lived there and to give witness that warfare was not the best way to solve our conflict with Saddam Hussein. She wrote quite a bit of poetry on that trip, and I leave you with one today:

Let gratitude be the beat of our heart,
pounding Baghdad rhythms, circulating
memories, meaning of the journey.

Let resolve flow in our veins,
fueled by Basra’s destitution, risking
reflective action in a fifteen-second world.

Let compassion be our hands,
reaching to be with each other,
all others to touch, hold heal this fractured world.

Let wisdom be our feet,
bringing us to the crying need
to friends or foe to share this body’s blood.

Let love be our eyes,
that we might see the beauty, see the dream
lurking in the shadows of despair and dread.

Let community be our body warmth,
radiating Arab energy to welcome in the foreign
stranger—even the ones who wage this war.

Let us remember on drear distant days,
we are a promised Christmas joy
we live as one this tragic gifted life—

We are the Body of God!

Simone Campbell, SSS

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Images to calm your soul

Here is a time-lapsed film I ran across today that might give you a few minutes of calm in your day. And perhaps a few images that might evoke the beauty and awesomeness of God's creation. Here is the film, and below that, an explanation of what you are seeing:

This film of the Pacific Northwest took over a year of work, 260,000 images, and 6.3 terabytes of hard drive space, by photographer John Eklund. For more about it, click HERE. Eklund's website can be found HERE.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Monday Funnies are back!

It has been much, much too long since we've run the Monday Funnies. What, with the election season and all that, we need some laughs.

Pat Hill in the Fiat Lux Jokester Department has been hard at work coming up with jokes, when he is not goldbricking by gazing at the sky look for the space shuttle (see his brilliant film below).

Here's a few groaners (blame Pat) and a church sign of the week to your right. Enjoy your Monday and the rest of the week.

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The minister had just finished an excellent chicken dinner at the home of a member of his congregation. Sitting on the porch after dinner he saw a rooster come strutting through the yard. "That's certainly a proud-looking rooster you have there," the minister commented.

"Yes sir," replied the farmer. "He has reason to be proud, one of his sons just entered the ministry!"

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George went to the eye doctor for an examination because he was having trouble reading the newspaper.

"Now that you are over 40," the doctor told him, "you've developed a condition called presbyopia, in which the lens of your eye can no longer focus as well as it used to."

Seeing his worried look, the doctor tried to be upbeat. "Congratulations!" he said. "You're now officially a presbyope!"

George leaned over and asked seriously, "Does this mean I can no longer be a Southern Baptist?"

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One beautiful Sunday morning, a pastor announced to his congregation: "My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons...a $100 sermon that lasts five minutes, a $50 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes, and a $10 sermon that lasts a full hour.

"Now, we'll take the collection and see which one I'll deliver."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Did Jesus have a wife?

You may have seen the news reports about the discovery of a fragment of Egyptian papyrus from the 4th century. The papyrus, written Coptic, mentions Jesus's "wife."

Does that mean Jesus had a wife? Maybe, maybe not.

It does mean that Egyptian Coptic Christians, living 300 to 400 years after the time of Jesus, knew of the idea that Jesus had a wife, though it is unclear what is meant by "wife." Is the term "wife"  a reference to marriage between a man and woman, or is it a metaphorical term? The Church was sometimes referred to as the "bride of Christ."

The Washington Post has a very good column by a Fordham University professor on the topic, and I re-post here for you:

Posted at 01:02 PM ET, 09/21/2012

“Jesus’ wife”: Nothing to fear, something to learn

Friday, September 21, 2012

Monday Funnies Extra Edition!

Sorry to interrupt your Friday for this special news edition. The Space Shuttle Endeavor, riding atop a big 'ole SevenFortySeven, was buzzing around downtown Sacramento and the Capitol only a few minutes ago. Pat Hill, the head of the Fiat Lux Jokester Department, was there for us, and I bring you his video live from the scene:

Peace One Day: What if it were today?

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
Matthew 5:38-48

What if we lived those words for just one day? What if that happened today?

Today is United Nations Peace Day, or Peace One Day. What if we lived the words of Jesus today in our homes, our neighborhood, our workplace and on the killing fields of the earth? What if the fighting and shooting stopped for just a single day? What would the world look like? Who would live? How might we live the next day?

Today is a good day to start. 

Have a look at this:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pilgrimage of Remembrance and Healing: Our wounded veterans

War Memorial Chapel
Washington National Cathedral
Forgive me, dear friends, for not posting much here recently. The Fall is upon us and many things are launching at St. Paul's.

I want to share with you an experience I had yesterday at our Fall gathering of the Episcopal clergy in our Central Virginia region -- our "clericus" as it is called. Our host was the Rev. Randy Haycock, who is the interim rector at Grace Church, Keswick.

Randy is a retired U.S. Army chaplain, and he still works with wounded veterans. He shared with us a program he began a few years ago while posted at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center that is extraordinary. He leads wounded vets on a "Pilgrimage of Remembrance and Healing" at the National Cathedral.

The veterans walk through the Cathedral remembering lost friends, praying, talking, forgiving, and paying tribute to their fallen friends. They spend time in the War Memorial Chapel in the Cathedral, remembering friends. The Cathedral is closed while they are there -- no tourists, no one else but the wounded warriors. Randy's presentation was very moving, and it reminded me that we in Charlottesville sometimes lead very comfortable lives far away from the battlefields.

Public television recently did a short segment on Randy's work. Here it is:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who are we? Who are we to become?

My sermon today is based on Mark 8:27-38.

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The scene may sound very familiar to us these days.

The candidate huddles with his top aides. They go over polling data and focus group results. They take the temperature of the voters, and the candidate asks: “What are they saying about me?”

“You are the messiah,” replies the chief campaign consultant, known in the business as “Rock.”

Shush, the candidate says. If you say that out loud, the voters will crucify me. Get thee behind me Satan!

One way of hearing this passage from the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus is a candidate trying to gauge how his message is playing with the electorate. He knows the answers, but wants to hear if the voters – and his consultants – are catching on yet.

They aren’t quite yet.

So the candidate does something crazy. He goes rogue. He tells his consultants: to win this election, we will have to go to Jerusalem, the heartland of the opposition. For Peter, aka “Rock” the campaign consultant, this is not what he had in mind when he signed onto this candidate.

Are you nuts? There aren’t any votes in Jerusalem!

It is as if Mitt Romney were to say, let’s go to San Francisco, or Barack Obama were to say, let’s go to Salt Lake City.

Well, that’s one way of looking at this, as a test of his followers: the voters.

But what if this story is not about a campaign, or focus groups, or consultants or voters? What if this is not a test of the disciples at all? What if Jesus asks the question – “Who do people say that I am?” – because he really wants to know the answer. What if he is still trying to figure this out himself?

What if this story is a continuation of last week’s story when Jesus learns about himself.

Last week, we heard an extraordinary sermon from University of Virginia Professor Valerie Cooper.

She talked about how the gospel of Mark is a messy gospel, and it portrays Jesus at his most human – a human being who learns and grows as we do.

In the story last week, a Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus because her daughter is sick. She is from a different country and has a different religion than Jesus. He rebukes her by calling her a dog.

But she says even the dogs get crumbs from the table. It is a messy story.

As Professor Cooper explained, the incident becomes a huge learning experience for Jesus. He discovers by her humility that his mission is not to single tribe or religion but to all people of every tribe and nation.

That story is a turning point for Jesus, and the daughter is healed, and then another man – a stranger – is healed. And then we get to this story.

I have been thinking all week about Professor Cooper’s sermon, and wondering if today’s story is a continuation of last week’s story.

Is Jesus still wondering what it means to be “messiah”?

When he asks his followers – what do people think? – maybe this messiah really needs his followers to help him with the answer.

By asking, by drawing us into the conversation, Jesus is redefining what it means to be “messiah.” He is human, able to learn, to grow, to be in relationship with people by being open to them – and sometimes it will take all his divinity to be that open. In this conversation, it dawns on him where this will go:

Ultimately this messiah will suffer as we suffer, and die as a human being, and point the way beyond the grave.

To be messiah is not to be a powerful dictator but a servant among us, especially in our hardest moments.

Peter wants Jesus to fix things, to use his God authority like a mighty Roman emperor or a Greek God like Zeus. Jesus can’t and won’t. Therein lies their conflict with Jesus and his followers.

To be messiah means giving up the idea of being a fixer, a rescuer, and instead become a healer, and the One who leads us to new life from the ashes.

Jesus discovers his true self is to walk into the night with those who hurt, to share in their wounds, and then walk with them toward healing and hope – to Resurrection itself.

There is an unavoidable paradox to the gospel story today. This idea of bringing healing and hope does not always lead to immediate tranquility for the healed or the healer.

And Peter sees exactly where this is going too, and he objects strenuously. Peter asks: Can’t we do something different?

But Jesus says we need to go where life is precarious, where life is treated as cheap. We need to confront the powers of the world that robs us of life; to confront evil itself. And in his day, that would be Jerusalem.

This week we got very painful remainder of the precariousness of life with the killing of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, a courageous servant who had worked tirelessly to bring freedom and peace to that very troubled corner of our world.

He was one of the good guys.

Sometimes events far away strike close to home. Ambassador Stevens’ family are long-time members of my congregation in Sacramento, Trinity Cathedral, where Lori and I were for 18 years, and where I was ordained a priest and served as an associate.

I’d ask that you keep the Stevens family especially in your prayers.

Most of the wounds in our world don’t make headlines, but the people who are hurt and wounded are no less in pain.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be servants especially to the hurting, not out of regard for our worldly status, and not because we might get a reward, but because it is where Christ would have us go.

Jesus puts this squarely: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This is not about an intellectual set of precepts. It is about having the heart of servant – and that begins by being vulnerable to our own wounds. That is precisely what Jesus means by taking up your Cross.

But I stop myself right here and ask: Why would anyone do that? Sometimes I feel like Peter. Let’s go somewhere else. The Cross is not where I want to be.

It is a wonder that Jesus had any followers at all. This is a hard road to follow; it is much easier stay in our comfort zones.

Yet people all over the world do follow this way of the Cross; they open themselves to others and in so doing find their own heart of healing.

And it happens right here in this place.

Here in our parish, we have many who live as servants among us:

• Our highly trained Stephen Ministers who meet regularly with those who are lonely, hurting or ailing;

• Our volunteers at the Episcopal Thrift Shop on Rio Road;

• Our hospital visitors who go to the bedsides of the sick;

• Our University commission and those who befriend and serve dinners for our UVA students. 
• Our Martha’s Guild volunteers who extend hospitality to everyone;

• Our Eucharistic Visitors who bring Communion to the home-bound; our PACEM volunteers who assist the homeless; 
• Our Salvation Army volunteers who feed people living on the street;

• Our IMPACT social justice network volunteers who work across religious lines for change in our community so that maybe one day no one will be on the street or out of a job. 
• Our ushers, choir members, musicians, Eucharistic ministers, acolytes, readers, intercessors, Altar Guild, Flower Guild and all those who make our worship come alive. 
• Our annual giving team that makes all of this possible.

And there are more, many more servant ministries here at St. Paul’s.

Later this morning, you will get an opportunity to join one of these ministries. We are hosting our annual parish picnic outdoors, and you can enjoy fried chicken, and while you are there, signup for one or more of these ministries.

Each of these ministries brings transformation to our community and the world. But at least as important is how these ministries transform us by how we serve.

Jesus had a question for his followers – who do people say I am?

We could ask a similar question of ourselves: Who are we?

To find out, we must answer another question each day of our life: How will we share God’s love with the rest of our world? How will we take up our Cross not to die, but to live?

And when we do, who will we become?


Art by He Qi
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The tale of two brothers and an extraordinary letter

Icon of James of Jerusalem,
brother of Our Lord
I am back in Charlottesville, back in the pulpit and ready for the Fall. My sermon today is particularly focused on the Letter of James. The readings today are: Song of Solomon 2:8-13Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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His name was Yakov bar Yosef – Jacob, son of Joseph. He grew up in northern Israel, away from the hubbub of Jerusalem. He had three or four brothers and a sister or two. His father died relatively young, and Jacob son of Joseph likely stepped into the role of father-figure for his siblings. He was the responsible, practical one.

One of Jacob’s brothers was Yesu bar Yosef – Joshua, son of Joseph. Jacob found his brother Joshua quite trying at times.

Joshua was not very responsible with family matters; he disappeared into the desert for long stretches, and finally split for good to live in the hinterlands as a mystical Jewish holy man.

We know from Mark’s gospel that Jacob and his siblings, and their mother, once even tried to bring Joshua home, but they were soundly rebuffed.

One day, many years later, Jacob son of Joseph would be known to the world by his Greek name, “James.” He would gain respect, and acquire the title “James the Just,” and would lead the early Christians in Jerusalem.

His brother we would know as Jesus, Son of God. Both brothers would meet violent deaths – Jesus on the Cross, and James by being thrown off the wall of the Jerusalem Temple and then stoned.

To know the family background of these two brothers is to know the back-story contained in the extraordinary letter from James we hear today. It is the only document we have from this man who inherited, maybe reluctantly, the religious movement begun by his brother.

The letter was written to an embattled Jewish community that was following the way of Jesus in a time before the word “Christian” had been coined.

Scholars debate whether it was actually written by James, the brother of Jesus. My own New Testament professor, Bill Countryman, usually a skeptic in such matters, makes a good argument that it was. If so, this letter represents possibly the only document we have that is written by someone with first hand knowledge of the entire life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

The letter wastes no time on biographical details. It is preeminently practical, like its author, James.

James was initially a major skeptic of the Jesus movement. He is not listed among the first followers. He was not on the road with Jesus healing the sick, or in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, or at the foot of the Cross.

In the early going, James did not approve of his brother’s ideas – ideas that were threatening to the social order, and seemed – in words of our own time – so pie-in-the-sky.

He tried very hard to bring Jesus home and to turn him away from his dangerous trajectory.

We don’t know what brought James around to seeing things as Jesus saw them. But something very powerful got hold of him.

Maybe it was his own encounter with his resurrected brother. Whatever it was, James became the tower of strength for those who had followed Jesus, and for the next 30 years he was the undisputed primary leader of the Jesus movement.

There might well have been no Christianity without Jacob son of Joseph.

For the next five Sundays, we will hear excerpts from his letter. It only comes around every three years in our Sunday cycle of biblical readings, so I hope we might as a congregation take our time with it and drink deeply from his words. Today I am giving an overview of the letter as it will unfold in the next few weeks.

James was preeminently practical. His letter is alive with advice.

“You must understand this, my beloved,” he writes, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

Practical is not necessarily easy: Be humble, don’t get greedy, don’t grumble against each other, mind your language – he writes that “the tongue is a fire.”

Had he encountered email, he might have had something to say about that, too.

Be patient and gentle with each other, he implored, “full of good mercy and good fruits.”

Don’t judge each other. “Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven,” he proclaims.

And, yes, life can be tough, so buck up: “blessed are those who show[ed] endurance.” Do not neglect your prayers. Pray for each other and pray especially for the sick, and welcome “the implanted word” in yourself.


By being doers.

You cannot ignore the poor, the sick, the oppressed and claim to have God’s righteousness. We will know your faith by what you do.

James preached exactly what the Hebrew prophets had preached, and it made him no more popular than they. It is why he became known as “James the Just.”

Religion in his day was much concerned – obsessed really – with purity.

If you could keep yourself undefiled on the outside, by eating the right foods, washing your hands the right way, and associating only with other pure people, then you would be pure and you would be right with God.

But James thought that was nonsense. He called it “worthless religion.” How to be pure? Be a doer.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress.”

We hear this same exact lesson from Jesus’ lips in the Gospel of Mark today. Jesus is criticized because he and his disciples don’t wash their hands properly, they don’t use the right utensils or eat the right foods. They are not following the correct religious rules.

Jesus responds that those rules are nothing more than human traditions. “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but things that come out are what defile,” Jesus says. “It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

Much of what both Jesus and his brother James said would be misunderstood as the centuries unfolded. Martin Luther would even recommend that the letter from James should be dropped from the Bible.

The Church of later centuries would work itself into a corner by denying that Jesus had a brother.

The problem? The idea of a brother for Jesus contradicted the doctrine put forward in the 4th century by Saint Jerome that Mary remained a perpetual virgin and had no children except Jesus.

James instead became Jesus’ cousin.

I would venture that the real difficulty was that both James and Jesus advocated practicing a faith that goes against the social and economic interests of powerful institutions, like those of kings and churches.

But it was easier to attack James the Just than to attack Jesus the Son of God. James would be mischaracterized as claiming that you earn your way into heaven by your good works.

But that was not what he was getting at. Neither was Jesus.

Both Jesus and James advocate an inward faith that shows itself outwardly in the way we lead our lives.

Both Jesus and James advocate faith that is not about membership in a sanctified social club, but a way of life that especially cares for the people that the world considers impure – the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged.

Elsewhere in his letter, James is rather blunt on this point: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead,” he writes.

“Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

In other words, show me what you are doing with your life and that will show me your faith. We have no other way of knowing your faith except by seeing what you do.

For us, in our own time and place, there are many ways to do that, here in this church, in our daily life and home, and in the world around us.

The core issue for each of us today, and every day, is figuring out – discerning – how we are called to live out our faith by our actions. That is mission of our life. As a faith community, our core issue is how we bring our actions together as the people of God – the Church at large and in this particular place and time.

We bring to this great task all of our talents, all of our gifts, our brainpower, and our prayers. Our calling will look a little differently for each of us indivifually as God as made each of us unique.

Yet our foundational calling is to be doers of the Word, and that remains unchanged. Jacob son of Joseph, who we know as James the Just, sums it up exactly as his brother Jesus did:

“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” AMEN

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux